MAKING MENTAL ADJUSTMENTS: TRAINING FOR YOUR LONGEST RUN
At 6:00am my alarm went off, I looked outside at pitch blackness and groaned. I hit the snooze button. At 6:08am the alarm cut through another layer of sleep and the label, “Get up! Go Run” flashed across the screen.
On some mornings, that alarm was enough to get me out the door, but on others, I’d scroll through Instagram while still in bed. Around the world, in my life, people were up and running. A friend of mine in San Francisco had just run 5-ish miles and was headed to a bootcamp class. Two of my previous teammates, back in Brooklyn, caught the end of sunrise as they hit trails at Prospect Park for ten miles.
A 5K run ending in large lattes was the motivation for a former teammate and her running crew in London. I looked at the times, the places, the silhouettes against city skylines, the trail shoes pounding down dirt trails in their stories, the tags: #nevernotrunning #werunbrooklyn #runfam. I pulled myself from my sheets.
As one of the Directors of Toughness at Columbia Sportswear, I was given 45 days to train for my longest race ever. This isn’t much time, so while listening to my body’s aches and pains, I had to start running more than ever.
Considering the daunting distance, I spoke to friends who have run ultra-marathons, anything over marathon distance. Since our race is over three days, its technically not an ultra, it’s a stage race, but I knew ultra-marathoners would have relevant advice.
Everyone advised me: get used to running tired.
Yet, on some mornings I didn’t want to run, so the piece that stuck most with me was, “Keep up the stoke. You have to be excited for each run.” A perspective adjustment.
As I worked on waking up excited to run, I also slowed my pace. As a sprinter, I’m used to running fast.
As I increased my weekly mileage, rather than worrying about each mile, I started to think much more about another running concept, “time on feet.” How do I get my body adjusted to running longer than ever? I can’t go my 5k race pace forever, but is there a pace where I feel I can run forever? I tried to find it, slower miles, running for hours. On one rough day, I found a 6-mile loop and looped around it for three and a half hours. Time on feet, getting my body used to spending time running.
Another idea shared with me was, “keep your mind full.” I found myself ditching headphones and spending a lot of time with myself and my thoughts. In the past I’ve been pretty mean to myself during runs, losing my focus and saying, “why did you even think you can do this?” “you’re not cut out for this.” Instead, during this training cycle, I focused on saying, “aww look at those baby squirrels!” and “wow what a gift to be running.”
I also started breaking up the runs and challenging myself with back to backs. I’d run 3 miles at night, wake up and do 6 in the morning and then get out for 4-5 miles during lunch. On “long-run” days I just wanted my one long run, it’s when I’d get to play with fueling and hydration routines and spend the time finding a rhythm. Breaking it up throughout the week helped me build more miles into the weeks before this and build my confidence about how much I was capable of running.
Running is emotional and it was interesting to me that, while experienced runners definitely stress the importance of learning how to fuel and hydrate properly, a lot of the emphasis in the advice I received was on my mind. Much of the combined advice could be boiled down to: if you want to do it, tell yourself you can, build in a positive attitude and allow your body time to get used to the concept, you can do it.